FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The U.S. House will likely vote this week on the simple question of whether to drill for oil in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
It will mark the first time the House has confronted the ANWR question alone, as opposed to part of other legislation, since Congress created the refuge in its current form in 1980.
The vote, which could come as early as Wednesday, is expected to come during floor debate on a larger energy bill created in the Republican-led House committees during the past month.
The energy bill contains language that would open ANWR's coastal plain to oil drilling. Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., are expected to push an amendment, the subject of the separate vote, to remove that language.
''We're very optimistic that we'll prevail,'' Adam Kolton, Arctic campaign director for the Alaska Wilderness League, told the Washington, D.C. bureau of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The group opposes oil drilling in the refuge.
Kolton tempered his optimism with concern about how the House Rules Committee will structure the allowable motions on the floor. The committee meets today to adopt the energy bill and set the rules.
''There are all kind of things the leadership could do with the rule that could create ambiguity,'' he said.
Roger Herrera, Washington representative of the pro-drilling Arctic Power group, said he didn't have any doubt that the Rules Committee would allow a straightforward vote on the amendment.
''My understanding is that the rules that the leadership has agreed to give people a fair chance,'' he said. ''It will be an up and down vote.''
Herrera, hoping to keep the ANWR-opening language in the bill, pinned his hopes on President Bush. He said Bush must call Republicans who are likely to defect from the GOP-leadership's pro-drilling stance.
''If the president makes some calls ... then I suspect we will prevail,'' Herrera said. ''If he doesn't, then it will be a toss up.''
Herrera said the White House has promised to help.
''The president communicates with members of Congress frequently,'' said Ken Lisaius, White House spokesman for Western regions. But he said he did not know whether Bush was talking up ANWR.
''The White House is going to continue to work with members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, to implement a comprehensive long-term energy policy, one that uses 21st century technology to protect our environment while encouraging domestic production of energy sources,'' Lisaius said. That includes opening ANWR, he said.
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